If you’ve ever watched the movie Draft Day, you’d assume the night of the AFL’s National Draft would feature much of the same for club recruiters.
Phone slamming, heated screaming matches with oppositions clubs and ploys to “make a splash” are noticeably absent however, at least from St Kilda’s makeshift draft bunker at RSEA Park’s boardroom.
All the work has been done in the 12 months prior – now it’s just a waiting game.
Brett Ratten and Jarryd Roughead refine their putting skills with the always-accessible set of golf clubs and portable putting green, the hunt for another TV screen to wheel into the room begins and decisions on what to order for dinner start to float through the room.
It’s only when AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan enters frame on Fox Footy’s broadcast of the National Draft close to 7:30pm that silence finally falls over the room.
The Saints’ A-Team is ready.
At the head of the table, Head of List Management James Gallagher, National Recruiting Manager Chris Liberatore and State Recruiting Manager Chris Toce stare on, preparing to put their months of effort into practice.
Data guru and Senior Analyst Darren O’Shaughnessy is positioned at the back of the room, hunched over his laptop and preparing one of many spreadsheets for the evening as Graeme ‘Gubby’ Allen – who has only missed one draft night since the inception of the concept – sits scrolling on his phone as McLachlan delivers his address.
Alongside long-time colleague David Rath, Ratten sits thoughtfully, taking his glasses off, then putting them back on, before finally taking them off again as he focuses his gaze on the TV.
As Jamarra Ugle-Hagan’s name is read out at pick No. 1, Roughead leaves his seat for the first of many trips to the whiteboard to alter where the Saints' selections now sit.
The early picks roll on, the top end of the draft class takes shape, and the commentary in the room gets more boisterous. Chief Operating Officer Simon Lethlean throws out the occasional, mood-lifting one liner, a skill he is widely renowned for at St Kilda.
Some players are going higher than expected, others are sitting idle. Luke Pedlar goes to the Crows early, Jake Bowey and Bailey Laurie head to the Dees.
Gallagher’s phone starts to ring and ring and ring, with several clubs calling to enquire about whether or not St Kilda’s first-round pick is on the table.
As the night wears on, the Saints edge closer and closer to their coveted selection. Roughead’s whiteboard has altered significantly since the opening minutes, with magnets of potential draftees and contingencies A-Z mapped out depending on the preceding picks.
It’s now over an hour into the draft, and Gallagher’s team is yet to make their move.
The Giants and Pies tango after a series of Academy bids, gradually pushing the Saints’ selection further down the order, before Adelaide's pick-up of Brayden Cook at pick No. 25 finally opens the door.
They’re now on the clock.
Gallagher and Liberatore take the floor, outlining the benefits of the players whose magnets remain on their whiteboard. What do we need? How will they complement the players we already have? How is next year’s draft shaping up at this stage?
The group decide that Matthew Allison is the man for the job.
The call is made to the club’s representative in the ARC and the bid is submitted. Just like that, the St Kilda family grows by one.
The next few minutes are filled with a flurry of text messages and an extremely excitable FaceTime between Ratts and the newest Saint, but focus quickly shifts back to business.
Ratts welcomes a very excited Matthew Allison to the club ?? pic.twitter.com/lTL4POiJKy— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) December 9, 2020
Clubs are circling to package up a few of the club’s later picks. David King’s analysis on the broadcast is abruptly muted so Gallagher and Liberatore can take phone calls.
A deal is struck, with pick No. 54 and a future fourth-round pick heading to Hawthorn in exchange for pick No. 43.
Pick No. 43 quickly turns into pick No. 45 following a few academy matches, and before long, St Kilda’s five minutes to make a decision is underway.
With confidence, the call is made to add Tom Highmore, a mature-aged defender, to the pack.
And now all that’s left to do is wait and watch the night unfold. The decision has been made to pass all remaining picks as the long night finally comes to a head.
Congratulatory pats on the back and acknowledgement of a job well done circulate around the room, with the recruiting team incredibly pleased with their two acquisitions from 2020.
No-one outside the four walls will ever appreciate the amount of decisions, the enormity of those choices and the sheer magnitude of planning that is poured into draft night.
Twelve months, two five-minute decisions, and the lives of two young men have changed forever.